Author: Campbell, Bruce

Pickin' Nits and Grinnin'

The awesome Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Just wrapped up here in the SF Bay Area. In most cases, “awesome” is an overused or misused modifier (“That’s an awesome smoothie, man!”), but it fits in this case.

Hundreds of thousands pack into Golden Gate Park to see 50+ acts play on six stages over three days, and it is literally awe inspiring.

The event began in 2001 as the “”Strictly Bluegrass Festival” and by 2004 it picked up the “Hardly” as the lineup grew to encompass other genres of music. The festival’s founder and benefactor, the awesome Warren Hellman, was savvy enough to know that bluegrass fans wouldn’t tolerate a festival that featured Western Swing and Gypsy Jazz in addition to bluegrass being called “strictly” bluegrass.

Bluegrass fans love to defend their genre. They’ll argue with anyone if they think the music is being improperly represented.

If someone says “I love bluegrass – I have all the Avett Brothers’ albums!”, they will be swiftly corrected.

Non-bluegrass fans have a heck of a time understanding what bluegrass really is. How many times have you had this conversation:

You: “I’m really into bluegrass!”

Them: “Oh, I love the blues!”

But sometimes, people come to bluegrass in a slightly oblique way, and it’s important not to “correct” them as they navigate towards the genre’s true heart. If someone says they love bluegrass because of their fondness for the aforementioned Avett Brothers or Mumford and Sons, they’re on the right track.

If ears more accustomed to mainstream pop develop a taste for mandolin or banjo tones, that’s positive right? Pseudo-grass can be their gateway to the real stuff. If someone is moved by the harmonies performed by The Head and the Heart, imagine when they hear the Louvin Brothers for the first time! If they cotton to the banjo twang in a Mumford and Sons song, they may be thrilled to hear Ralph Stanley and Earl Scruggs.

As always music is very personal – wherever your tastes lead you, it’s your journey, and your right to enjoy every step of the way. So, if your friends think what they’re listening to is bluegrass, and you know it isn’t, be charitable. Congratulate them on their amazingly good taste and gently steer them towards the music and the artists that made bluegrass your favorite music.

Warren Hellman understood this, and expanded the vision of his signature festival to broaden its appeal, and in the process expose a wider audience to the music he really loved.

Posted:  10/10/2012

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